No team has quite the “prove it” mindset entering the 2013 season like the Chicago Bears. A host of players are in the last year of their contracts or were brought in on one-year deals. GM Phil Emery has built an atmosphere of competition where no job is safe. That is why the 2014 NFL draft could prove very critical to the future of the franchise. It may start and end at the quarterback position.
Jay Cutler eyes a big year under Marc Trestman
What first must be understood is that Emery doesn’t want to make changes there. He feels the Bears have a legitimate franchise player in Jay Cutler. The problem was, and has continued to be the lack of a supporting cast and proper coaching. Emery worked tirelessly through two off-seasons to fix both. He traded for Brandon Marshall, drafted Alshon Jeffery and has since signed Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett to give the offense a serious influx of physical talent. The next step was firing former head coach Lovie Smith in favor of the more offensive-minded Marc Trestman. The feeling is if anybody can turn Cutler around, it is a veteran coach who specializes in quarterbacks, which Trestman is. He coached former MVPs Steve Young and Rich Gannon during some of their best seasons.
The big issue is money. Emery will not pay franchise quarterback cash, ala Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, until he feels certain Cutler is worth it. That is why Chicago has made no move to open contract negotiations with the 30-year old quarterback. They feel content letting him play out the last year of his current deal in a similar move that the Baltimore Ravens pulled with Joe Flacco. They hope the results are similar too since Flacco won the Super Bowl. Still, however Cutler does will determine the price the Bears are willing to pay, or not pay depending on if Emery prefers to move in a new direction next season.
Driskel overshadowed by Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd
Before pinpointing which quarterbacks Chicago might target in 2014, it is best to extrapolate where they are likely to pick. The Bears are a team that finished 10-6 last season, good enough for the 20th overall selection in the first round. Most experts believe the team is at least as good as last year with a big boost expected from the offense. That means fans should expect a finish at least somewhere between 7-9 and 10-6. That would put a team in the mid to high teens range of the first round.
If that holds true then it will limit which quarterbacks they can target. Fast rising names like Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Tajh Boyd of Clemson, who expect to improve next season off impressive bowl wins, should become top ten locks. Johnny Manziel is the reigning Heisman trophy winner but is also a sophomore and won’t come out until junior year at least unless unforeseen circumstances arise. That leaves a collection of fringe names that will hover between the middle and end of the first round.
The next part of the puzzle is identifying what Emery and Trestman would look for. During his two previous drafts the Bears GM has provided a tell for the kinds of players he likes. They must have athletic qualities (speed/agility/vision), good size and experience against top competition. Equally important is they must fit what is required of the West Coast offense Trestman runs. The most successful quarterbacks to run the system have good arms, mobility and field awareness. If that is the case, then they will have a lot of eyes on Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.
He was the best quarterback coming out of high school and planned to play for Urban Meyer with the Gators. There was legitimate reasons for him to transfer elsewhere when the long-time coach retired, but Driskel honored his commitment. The physical tools are there according to scouts. He stands 6’4″, has the arm to make any throw on the football field and tops it off with 4.5/40 speed. What is lacking is the typical issues for young quarterbacks.
He doesn’t protect the football, throwing bad interceptions under pressure and fumbling when he gets hit during a scramble. Limited snaps from under center have lead to an unwillingness to stand in the pocket and instead choosing to run. That explains his 1,646 passing yards and 408 rushing yards with 16 total touchdowns. Put simply, he is raw when it comes to traditional quarterback play. That is why he could slip down draft boards despite such obvious talent.
The bottom line
Driskel proved last season he can manage games. What coaches are looking for in 2013 is if he can win them. That takes teaching and experience. If he shows enough improvement, then Chicago will have an advantage by putting him under the guidance of Trestman and his staff.